LGBT Political Groups Step Forward

With the Kansas primary on August 1, the Missouri primary on August 8, and general elections in November, there are a lot of people pounding the pavement on behalf of their candidates.
Kansas and Missouri have several political groups working hard on behalf of their candidates and the issues. It may surprise people that there are so many groups in the LGBT community that live and breathe politics as these people do. But their memberships and activism has never been stronger.
Four Freedoms Democratic Club; the Kansas City Chapter of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC); Kansas Equality Coalition; KC Pride Democratic Club and PROMO are all working to effect change in the political process.
Some of the groups have spent the spring and summer sending out questionnaires and conducting interviews with candidates. Endorsements can be found at these groups websites, in the sidebar to this article, and in ads in this issue of Camp.
Four Freedoms Democratic Club
Jim MacDonald is the new interim president of Four Freedoms, a role he has just assumed since Kirby McCullough had to step down for business reasons. Four Freedoms, like KC Pride Democratic Club, is an affiliate of the National Stonewall Democrats. “We’re the first and oldest Democratic political club for the LGBT community in Kansas City,” MacDonald said.
“Four Freedoms tends to view ourselves as a descendent of HRP, the Human Rights Project, the group that was formed specifically to pass the human rights ordinance in Kansas City and other non-discrimination laws. A lot of the folks that were involved in that helped with the formation of Four Freedoms. HRP died a natural death and a few years later, from its ashes, emerged the Four Freedoms.”
MacDonald credits local community activist Kevin Hennosy for coming up with the name for the group, based on the FDR speech about the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
The club is “really an acknowledgement of the fact that LGBT people were now part of the political mainstream of the Democratic party, not just nationally but locally,” MacDonald said. “Evidence of that is Tim van Zandt, who was the first out gay elected official probably of any type in the State of Missouri and certainly in the State Legislature. He was one of the founders of the club.”
Asked about the differences between KC Pride and Four Freedoms, MacDonald said, “The differences in my mind are minor.. . . We tend to focus on a broader geographic area. We cover Jackson, Clay, and Platte counties and we’ll accept requests from endorsements from any candidates in those counties. KC Pride focuses exclusively on Kansas City south of the River, the urban core.” He added, “They would say that they are more grassroots and have a more diverse membership racially and socioeconomic ally. I’ve never compared the numbers but they’re proud of that, so that’s another distinction.”
“The two clubs screen candidates together if it’s a race that we’re both screening in. And then we go off and make our own separate endorsements and sometimes the endorsements differ.”
“There have been times when we’ve had a candidate pursuing our endorsement that we’ve chosen not to endorse, even though they’re better than their opponent. The best example of that is in the wake of the “No on 2”gay marriage amendment campaign. A lot of Democrats backstabbed us and voted in favor of the constitutional amendment, even though they had been generally good on our issues prior to that. That year we used that issue as a litmus test, though usually we tend not to have a litmus test in any formal sense. If you voted for the amendment you did not get our endorsement. The good thing is that there were still plenty of people for us to endorse since there were at least half a dozen Democrats in this metropolitan area that voted against it.”
After the August primaries, Four Freedoms will start focusing on the City Council races next February. “We’ll work informally for Claire (McCaskill) and then we’re going to begin screening for the City Council races,” he said.
MacDonald said it’s going to be a tough race between Jolie Justus, their endorsed candidate for State Senator, and her three Democratic opponents in the August primary. He said a telephone poll in describing Justus among the other three candidates, asks “Would it influence your vote if you knew that her top priority if elected would be to overturn the ban on gay marriage in the state of Missouri?” “We’ll never know who did it,” he said in talking about whether or not the poll was done by a 3rd party group or one of Justus’s opponents. It does help, he says, that there are no major issues to vote on in the primary which could have drawn more conservatives to the polls. “Jolie’s camp is thrilled that the Rolling Roof is not on the ballot” he joked.
Four Freedoms is a membership organization with dues of $35 for local and an extra $10 for national membership said MacDonald. “We have one fundraiser a year and we never have more than $10,000 in the bank. We’re just a small grassroots organization.”
Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
Based in Washington, D.C., HRC is both a federal PAC and a membership organization. A Kansas City chapter of HRC group was formed only formed two years ago. (See the story on Joe Solmonese, President of HRC, on page 23 in this issue of Camp.)
Kevin Hager, co-chair of the Political Committee for Kansas City HRC, is also a member of the Kansas Equality Coalition and has been active in the gay community since coming out to his family and forming a gay/straight alliance at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School. He is currently the manager of Mel Solomon’s campaign for the 4th District City Council seat.
Though the actual steering committee in Kansas City is only about two years old, it has a mailing list of over 2,500 names. Hager said one of the big challenges is to get more participation at HRC events. “Our biggest difficulty right now is activating those people. We’ll do a really great Town Hall and get 100 people. So where are the other 2,400 people we know of in Kansas City?”
Hager said that the national group is increasing its focus on helping in state races, especially the eleven they’ve identified as needing special attention this year. (Missouri and Kansas are not in that group). There is a budget for local events. “We did a Keith Boykin Town Hall at UMKC and a Transgender Town Hall at KU,” he said. HRC also helped sponsor with PROMO the recent Take Action meeting at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center and the spring benefit with UMKC’s LGBT office for the Keith Boykin presentation. They hold regular meetings, such as Third Thursdays at a restaurant in town and they are scheduling a “Tee Off for Equality” Golf Tournament on August 26.
Since HRC operates on a national level, “We’ve worked with the federal candidates enough now that we know exactly how to create some leverage there. As always, it’s with money and volunteers, so we’re stepping up fundraising for candidates and we’re trying to really get our members to volunteer locally for the primaries and then more at the federal level as we get closer to the November elections.” They are looking at ways they can help both Dennis Moore in Kansas and Emanuel Cleaver in Missouri in their 2006 Congressional races.
Asked about how they work with the other political groups in Kansas City, Hager said “We’re only two years old and I’ve been the co-chair of the Political Committee since its beginning, so I came in when I was 21. I was brand new to all these organizations so I feel just I’m just getting to a place where I know the people that are out there and we’re really starting to form effective partnerships.”
Kansas Equality Coalition
Tom Witt is Chair of the Kansas Equality Coalition, a new 501(c)4 group of LGBT and allied supporters in Kansas. As its website describes the group as: “The Kansas Equality Coalition is a new, unified statewide group of fair-minded people who are determined to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We seek to ensure the dignity, safety and legal equality of all Kansans. We are nonpartisan and include people who are religious and secular as well as straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered. We are from all walks of life and from all parts of the state.”
The coalition has chapters in Lawrence, Topeka, Wichita, Flint Hills, Southwest Kansas, and Johnson County. KEC started with five existing Kansas groups that had been operating independently and added the Johnson County chapter recently. A seventh chapter in Salina, now in provisional status, will be called the North Central Chapter.
Kansas for Justice and Equality Project, one of the original 5 groups, will be transitioning as the KEC PAC. Describing the formation of the group, Witt says, “We took the biggest gay egos in the state of Kansas, got them all in a room, actually a series of meeting rooms all last summer, and we argued about ways to find agreement. We started in June and ended in October. We met every three weeks in a different place in the state.”
The group is also forming a foundation, the Kansas Equality Foundation. The local chapters raise money and send part of it to the statewide organization, keeping a share for local initiatives. Tom Witt gave a few examples of how local chapters use their funds: The Flint Hills chapter in Manhattan is working to add sexual orientation to the City’s Human Rights Ordinance. The Wichita Chapter sponsored the Pride Parade and Festival: “Pedro Irigonegaray, the civil rights attorney, was our keynote speaker, and gave a real barn-burner of a keynote speech.” The Lawrence and Topeka chapters hired lobbyists to work their issues, and the Johnson County Chapter was one of the biggest fundraisers for AIDS Walk.
Witt is particularly pleased about the Southwest Kansas Chapter. “We formed a chapter in the most unlikely spot in the whole state of Kansas. There has never been a gay rights organization in Dodge City—ever—in the history of Kansas. And we now have a chapter there. It has 30 members.”
KC Pride Democratic Club
Barely four years old, KC Pride is the second of two Kansas City LGBT Democratic clubs along with Four Freedoms. In a city the size of Kansas City two Democratic clubs in the LGBT community might seem unusual, yet each has found its own place in the political processes.
John “Coach” Comstock, a Kansas City native and president of KC Pride, is a high school teacher in Kansas. Among the founders of the group are Terry Norman, who ran for State Representative that year, Calvin Williford, the late Roger Goodin, Van Buckley, Jim MacDonald, and Comstock.
“A key difference is that we are membership driven, [Four Freedoms> are Executive Board-driven. Any endorsements that we do have to go through our membership. And you have to be a member for 30 days or longer before you can vote,” Comstock said.
“We also have tried and are pretty close to being 100% successful in trying to have at least one meeting where candidates can come and speak in front of our members before they vote.”
“The other big difference, I see, is that we do a lot of work on outreach of coalition building with outside groups that are friendly to LGBT. We work with several union groups.”
“ We share a room out at Truman Days with the firefighters. We see them as a strong group that can continue to build different ideas,” Comstock said. He gave an example of the domestic partnership benefit that the prosecutor’s office was trying to get through the legislature. “The other groups that were representing the prosecutors and the paralegals were the firefighters and the carpenters. And they were the ones that called us and saying ‘hey, we’ve got to have your support because part of this whole deal is domestic partnership.’”
“Our third difference from Four Seasons is that we are a little bit more concentrated, partly because we are still so new. We really concentrate on what is going to affect the main corridor of downtown through midtown to Brookside because that is the where we have the highest number of LGBT businesses/residents in Kansas City. We see that as our strongest place to be effective.”
“We’re not afraid to step into an issue. A few years back Mayor Barnes came and asked for our endorsement of the bus increase. We know that there are enough of the LGBT community that uses mass transit in midtown to get to the Free Health Clinic or whatever they need to get to because they can’t afford transportation, so we see it as an issue. The stadium issue was not a strong issue for us or for our community, so we didn’t take a stand.”
KC Pride has 45 paid members, since they are a young organization, and a much larger e-mail list. The group just held a fundraiser and auction that raised more than $12,000. Their goals are to substantially increase paid membership.
Their endorsements are listed on the website and they will be mailing out a sample ballot before the August 8 primary. The group informally helps candidates with canvassing and does whatever else it can to help their candidates. “I go to almost any fundraiser for our candidates,” said Comstock, “I try and show support for them.”
A statewide group with offices in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield, Missouri, PROMO is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Sarah Finken is the new regional field organizer in Kansas City. Don Dressel is senior field organizer in Springfield, and the main office in St. Louis office is staffed by Julie Brueggemann, executive director, and A.J. Pupillo, membership coordinator.
Although only in her role at PROMO since April 10, Sarah Finken is well known to many Kansas Citians from her former work with GLSEN and as volunteer Chair of the Youth Hospitality Committee for the November 2006 Creating Change Conference in Kansas City.
PROMO is both a membership organization and a political action committee (PAC) supported by individual donations and grants. Finken began her job by training with Dressel and Brueggemann and developing a plan for the area. “With the Jolie Justus race, I would like to get more volunteers involved from PROMO It’s a pretty exciting time to get started with this.”
Finken recently organized a “Take Action” meeting on July 12 with Kelly Anthony, regional field director for the Human Rights Campaign, and several speakers from local campaigns. She was pleased that at least 30 people came to the first meeting of this type which was organized to encourage people to step forward and volunteer to help candidates, including canvassing for votes. Anthony said, “We’ve been holding these meetings all over the country and thirty is a good number.”
PROMO has played a key role in fighting for the rights of LGBT Missourians. With the assistance of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, they were recently successful in the battle for foster parenting won by gay Missourians Lisa Johnston and Dawn Roginski for now all LGBT parents in Missouri. PROMO will continue to introduce legislation in Jefferson City to protect the rights of Missourians.
PROMO’s next event will be the Equality Summit August 26 in Columbia. For more information see their links under events, legislation and issues on their website:

Four Freedoms Democratic Club
(816) 881-1140
Monthly membership meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month at 6:00pm - location varies (call to inquire).
HRC Kansas City
Monthly meetings every third Thursday from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Frondizi’s Ristorante, 4558 Main St., Kansas City MO 64112
Kansas Equality Coalition
Meetings and contact information varies by Kansas Chapter. See website for specific information on each chapter.
KC Pride Democratic Club
(816) 523-3135
Check their website, phone or e-mail for information on events and membership.
Check website for information on events in Kansas City and throughout the state. Next events are PROMO’s 20th Anniversary Celebration in St. Louis July 29 and Equality Summit in Columbia on August 26.


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